Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kidnap for Ransom,First Quarter of 2011,Part V:Renato Panisales,Wennie Ferrer,Jonald Oscimar and Ujain Arabain

Piracy in the waters off of Southeast Asia is nothing new.Ancient travelogues spoke of how the waters of the Sulu and Celebes Seas were rife with fast moving watercraft that would utilise the deadly currents,hidden atolls and lagoons hidden from view to overtake and rob merchant vessels of every size,shape and nationality.Often entire crews would be slaughtered though more likely than not all people aboard would be enslaved and sold to disparate corners of the region.Somethings never change and so today groups like Abu Sayyaf (ASG,or the Abu Sayyaf Group) ply these same waters.Though slavery today is rare in this region the bloodshed that went hand in hand with it is anything but.

On Saturday,March 19th,2011 the crew of the sardine trawler"M/V Mega 8-Captain-1"was laying its nets directly off of Barangay Bangas in the municipality of Hadji Panglima Tahil (formerly known as Mantunggas) on the small island of Menes.The town is spread out over 5 small islands,all of which sit adjacent to the municipality of Patikul on the island of Jolo,the largest island in Sulu Province.Hadji Panglima Tahil is considered a safe mooring despite the overall locale being rife with piracy and kidnapping because the town is dominated by a group of 450 de-mobilised MNLF guerillas who migrated there from throughout the Sulu Archipelago after the 1996 FPA (Final Peace Agreement),or as it is commonly known,the"1996 Jakarta Accord").Unlike most small islands in the area fishing boats are all but assured of their personal safety.

At 945PM that evening a pumpboat (local term for a motorised skiff) pulled broadside to the sardine boat and its well armed gunmen clamoured aboard.Immediately they asked the terrified crew to point out the boat's highest ranking officers.Captain Renato"Rennie"Panisales stepped forward as did Assistant Engineer Wennie Ferrer and Quartermaster Jonald Oscimar.The assailants quickly ushered the 3 officers over the side and into their pumpboat before shoving off for Patikul on Jolo Island.

The next day,March 20th,the kidnappers,ASG guerillas,contacted the boat's owner Tsinoy (Filipino of Chinese descent) William Lim,owner of the Mega Fishing Corporation in Zamboanga City.Mr.Lim was informed of the KFR (Kidnap for Ransom) and told that his 3 employees would only be released for P20 Million (roughly US460,000) and instead of undertaking the de riguer bargaining that is part and parcel of the whole KFR Dynamic on Mindanao he instead promptly broke off all contact with ASG.One cannot expect businessmen to place employees first but knowing that 3 of your men are being held by guerillas who have no problem decapitating captives and THEN refusing to even keep a basic line of communication going...it brings to mind the Babet and Ceekim Gomonit KFR from October of 2010 (as described in my entry"Kidnap for Ransom,Fourth Quarter of 2010").In that latter case the father of Ceekim slash son of Babet refused to bargain for their ransom with the BIAF 113 Base Command that was holding them (BIAF being the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces,the military wing of the MILF).His mother Babet was then executed and STILL the man refused to talk money.In the end other relatives paid the ransom and his 9 year old son was released nearly 5 months later.

Luckily for the 3 captives ASG covets money more than degenerately violent statements and so by the end of March an ASG negotiator made contact with 2 of the captive's wives.Quartermaster Oscimar's wife Maria Victoria"Marivic"Oscimar and Captain Panisales' wife Jocelyn Panisales then took on the incredible onus of negotiating the ransoms of all 3 kidnapping victims.Between them they decided that Marivic would leave their island of Negros in the Central Philippines to travel to Zamboanga City on Mindanao.There Ms.Oscimar repeatedly visited the Mega Fishing Corporation offices and facilities (aside from the island's second largest seine fishing fleet Mega owns a sardine cannery,a ship drydock facility and a commercial wharf collectively employing more than 560 people) trying to convince Mr.Lim to at least help the 3 families with the ransoms.Unfortunately it was an entirely wasted effort because each time Marivic tried to set an appointment she was told that Mr.Lim was"out of the country."

Not about to be put off the dedicated wife went to the media.While in most cases this would be nearly the worst thing one could do (the actual worst thing being communicating with the police or army) in Mrs.Oscimar's case it was her only hope.Still,the Philippine media goes lightly with the rich and powerful (most of the time) and so Mr.Lim gets off scot free while his 3 employees are being herded through the malarial jungles on Jolo Island,dodging government bullets and hoping that their captors don't learn no ransom will be forth coming in which case out comes the blade and off goes their head.Still,Marivic Oscimar stayed focused and did what little she could do.

Though the couple have 2 toddlers,ages 2 and 3,they were only married in January,64 days before the kidnapping.As if the pressure she and the other family members faced weren't bad enough,on March 30th the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) MBLT-5 (Marine Battalion Landing Team #5) stumbled into an Abu Sayaf encampment while on another one of the AFP's stupendously counter-productive"Search and Rescue"operations in the municipality of Patikul's Barangay Darayan.After an intense 50 minute firefight that wounded 3 Marines,the ASG guerillas withdrew upland into Barangay Kaduntakas.Aside from 3 dead Abu Sayyaf the Seaman's Book (a document showing that an individual is qualified by the Philippine Government,as about as worthless as it sounds and yet it isa pre-requisite for employment aboard Philippine flagged vessels) of Captain Panisales.

Though it is unclear as to whether Captain Panisales or either of his 2 mates were ever in that area it does show that the Abu Sayyaf's Jamiri Jawari Faction did have a connection to the kidnapping on one level or another.Of the 3 dead guerillas,one has been positively identified as Ismuran Rijah.

In the weeks since that firefight Mrs.Oscimar has been able to talk to her husband 3 times via cellphone during the long and convoluted negotiations for the groups' ransom.Originally ransomed as a single unit Abu Sayyaf had eventually dropped their initial demand of P20 Million all the way down to P10 Million (US230,000).When this proved to be an unrealistic demand Abu Sayyaf agreed to ransom each of the three captives separately for P4 Million (US82,000).That amount might as well be P400 Million because all 3 families are nearly destitute.Commercial fisherman in the Philippines make litle money.In fact Abu Sayyaf only had targetted these men to go after their enployer,William Lim.

As we near the end of the Second Quarter the 3 men remain in captivity.Indeed the script remains unchanged.On Saturday,June 4th,2011 a plain clothes police officer from the Jolo City CPO (City Police Office) Intelligence Division was stupidly hanging around an upcountry barangay in Patikul.These are places where strangers are instantly recognised and where civilians carry long arms as part of their regular routines.As an outsider in an area where all males over the age of 12 carry M16s or shotguns how would an Intelligence Officer make any real progress?As the sub set in Barangay Liang's Sitio Dan Puti,PO2 Cesar Dammang,42,was approached by 3 young teenagers who suddenly pulled 45 caliber pistols and shot him pointblank 11 times in the face.Killing the police officer instantly they divested him of his personal sidearm,a 9MM pistol,before calmly walking off into the evening,last seen crossing into the adjacent municipality of Indanan.

January 2nd,2011 was supposed to be a day of joy and feasting in Barangay Paligi in the town of Indanan on Jolo Island in Sulu Province.Weddings provide a time for huge extended families to put aside petty differences in favour of celebration.In the adjacent barangay of Kajatian college registar Ujun Arabain looked forward to the party as much as anyone.It isn't often that the middle aged bachelor got to enjoy a day off from his demanding job at Hadji Butu School of Art and Trade (HBSAT,formerly known as the"National School of the Arts"on Scott Road) in the provincial capitol of Jolo City.

At 2PM,as the band played a traditional song Mr.Arabain was enjoying the festivities and didn't notice the arrival of a 3rd cousin,Aldin Bagadi.Bagadi,better known on Jolo as"Kumander Abu Shaining"is an up and coming ASG sub-Kumander in the Jamiri Jawari Faction centered in the uplands of the adjacent municipality of Patikul.Miffed over a family dispute that had transpired decades before Bagadi and his 4 well armed companions kidnapped his cousin Arabain without the music ever stopping.

On a happier note,the kidnapping ended without bloodshed when 48 hours later,on January 4th,clan elders were able to convince Bagadi to release Arabain based upon the promise of a fair resolution to all parties involved.

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